Outsiders may think of D.C. as a city of stodgy politicos, but its food scene boasts a hotbed of creativity for the people who work, live, and travel here to enjoy. Considering the wood-burning Levantine cooking going down in Navy Yard, the long lines forming for Filipino-American fast food and inventive Asian-American doughnuts at a downtown food hall, or the diners sweating from scotch bonnet-spiked Trini takeout on H Street NE, the Washington area has one of the most vibrant restaurant scenes in the United States. Here is Eater’s regularly updated guide to the neighborhoods and foods every aspiring D.C. aficionado needs to know.
—Updated by Gabe Hiatt
Welcome to a Land of Diversity
As the stereotype goes, D.C. is a world of power breakfasts and steak houses. But the best thing about eating in D.C. is the variety of international cuisine found around the city and its surrounding suburbs in Maryland and Virginia.
Southeast Asian foods are particularly strong. Longtime popular destinations include Bad Saint for Filipino, Little Serow and Baan Siam for Northern Thai, and Maketto for Taiwanese and Cambodian cafe food. The family that sparked the #LaoFoodMovement with a secret menu at their Thai restaurant in Falls Church (now Padaek) has restaurants scattered across the area, including Thip Khao in Columbia Heights and Sen Khao at the Tysons Galleria. One more recent addition, Thamee offers a rave-worthy introduction to Burmese food for people unfamiliar with the cuisine of a country once ruled by British India and influenced by neighbors such as China and Thailand. Malaysian specialties full of sweet, spicy, sour, and funky flavors at Makan make the Columbia Heights restaurant one of the buzziestin the city. Much of the area’s rich Vietnamese food culture is centered around the Eden Center in Falls Church, Virginia, but for a more upscale, contemporary take, diners can check out Moon Rabbit on the Southwest Waterfront.
Two high-end, wood-burning Middle Eastern restaurants have attracted national notice over the past few years: Albi, in Navy Yard, and Maydan, just north of the U Street corridor. On H Street NE, Trinidadian chef Peter Prime’s Cane packages up takeout boxes full of pimento-smoked jerk chicken wings, whole fried snapper escovitch, and doubles (fry bread, stewed chickpeas, spicy chutneys) that offer a high-end version of the Caribbean specialties found in carryouts along Georgia Avenue NW.
D.C. is home to some of the largest populations of Ethiopian and Salvadoran expats in the nation. Ethiopian favorites such as beef or lamb tibs and stewed chicken doro wat at the Habesha Market or Dukem in the Little Ethiopia area of Ninth Street NW, at Chercher a few blocks south, or at essential Zenebech in Adams Morgan. At Mélange in Mt. Vernon Triangle, French-trained chef Elias Taddesse is mixing Ethiopian traditions into an American burger shop with items like a berbere-marinated fried chicken sandwich. Find Salvadoran pupusas at Gloria’s in Columbia Heights, El Tamarindo in Adams Morgan, or El Rinconcito near the convention center.
No trip to D.C. would be complete without a chili-cheese half-smoke from Ben’s Chili Bowl. The historic, Black-owned restaurant sits on a U Street corridor once known as “Black Broadway.” Nearby soul food staples such as Henry’s Soul Cafe — famous for its sweet potato pie — or breakfast go-to Florida Avenue Grill have been comforting customers for decades. Oohs and Aahs is another must-visit for crunchy wings, collard greens, and gooey mac and cheese.
Meanwhile, Georgetown’s iconic Cafe Milano is a destination for people-watching (especially for bold-faced names). Another only-in-D.C. spot is the red velvet-wrapped Off The Record bar, hidden away in the basement of the Hay-Adams hotel. Diners can look for famous faces at high-profile places such as Bourbon Steak and Fiola Mare, indulge in high-end Indian food at Rasika (don't forget to order the palak chaat), and get to know the cuisine of famous humanitarian José Andrés at Jaleo, Zaytinya (or the fancy Barmini and Minibar). Even a bagel shop, smash hit “Jew-ish” deli Call Your Mother, may get a visit from the president on any given Sunday.
Where to Start on Eater’s Best Maps
Eater D.C. is the place to go for frequently updated guides to everything from bold new restaurants to specific dishes like succulent roast chicken — charred Peruvian birds are another local specialty — the pizza that makes up the city’s Neapolitan renaissance, or world-class sushi and delectable dim sum. Here, Eater narrows the field to highlight some of the very best destinations in the area.
Eater’s heatmap, updated once a month, is a go-to guide to the buzziest openings in the area. Pogiboy, a food hall stall downtown that serves fried chicken seasoned in sour tamarind powder and other Filipino-American fast-food inventions that pay homage to Jollibee, is attracting a lot of attention because it’s the first follow-up project for founding Bad Saint chef Tom Cunanan. Martha Dear, a Mount Pleasant pizza shop with airy, naturally leavened dough and a topping list that leans Greek, has taken the hype-fueled waiting line to the world of online preorders. For people looking for something a little fancier, chef Enrique Limardo has followed up tropical, pan-Latin hot spot Seven Reasons with Imperfecto: a West End destination for dressed-up crowds that throws Mediterranean flavors onto the chef’s abstract fine-dining canvas, resulting in dishes like a ricotta-and-harissa ravioli. Dauphine’s, a Mid-Atlantic-meets-New Orleans restaurant downtown, has also been attracting lots of buzz for throwback cocktails, raw bar fare, and Creole cooking with local bent. Lovers of old-school Italian-American red sauce joints should follow their noses to the vodka sauce-splashed dining room at Caruso’s Grocery in Capitol Hill.
The Essential 38
When narrowing down the Eater 38, one must-visit is Albi, where chef Michael Rafidi’s refined take on dishes from Lebanon, Palestine, Turkey, and other countries throughout the Mediterranean include za’atar dusted pita that incorporates labneh and potato into the dough, lamb kefta cooked with a cinnamon stick handle, a crunchy urfa-chile condiment, and hummus that’s smoother than Lando Calrissian.
At chef Amy Brandwein’s Piccolina, the wood-fueled oven leans casual Italian, roasting off omelets in long-handled pans, a superlative eggplant Parm, and all sorts of bread and pastries.. For another all-day option, Ellē is a neighborhood cafe and bakery in Mount Pleasant that morphs into a restaurant and bar at night. Guava turnovers and smoked brisket breakfast sandwiches served on sweet potato rolls are the move in the morning. Seasonal dishes like like carta di musica crackers — decorated with sungold tomatoes, preserved cherries, labneh, and holy basil — will dominate most dinner conversations. Marjorie Meek-Bradley has designed subversive steakhouse fare — think a perfectly seasoned salmon collar — at the St. Anselm tavern in Union Market. If Michelin-starred tasting menus are your bag, D.C. has plenty.
If there's only time to stop at one bar during a visit to D.C., make it Columbia Room. The always inventive drinking den (and garden) is a perennial contender for national awards. Find more of D.C.'s standout bars here, including the Green Zone, a destination for Middle Eastern-themed mixology in Adams Morgan; huge whiskey bar Jack Rose Dining Saloon nearby, affordable cocktail spot Service Bar on U Street NW, and Union Market rum distillery Cotton & Reed. There’s also the bar heatmap, which chronicles the new hot drinking spots around town.
Is pizza D.C.'s strong suit? Maybe not, but there are plenty of high-quality pies to pick from. New York transplants will feel most at home at the divey but authentic Wiseguy in Mt. Vernon Triangle or Rosslyn. A few newer options are giving Wiseguy a run for its money: Andy’s Pizza (Shaw, Navy Yard, Tysons Corner), Della Barba in Ivy City, and Capitol Hill food hall stall Slice Joint. Neapolitan pizza is the most prominent style around town, with excellent versions at 2 Amys, Pupatella, Etto, and Pizzeria Orso. Meanwhile, All-Purpose — which has a second location in Navy Yard — and Timber Pizza Company attract followers looking for a similar style of pizza with slightly more creative toppings and trappings. Union Market district’s Stellina Pizzeria is drawing attention for its cacio e pepe pie and inventive panini like the one packed with fried octopus and burrata.
Gelato is huge here, with a ton of local companies like Dolcezza, Pitango, and Dolci Gelati. At one point, custard shop the Dairy Godmother in Alexandria's Del Ray neighborhood probably had the biggest cult following of D.C.'s ice cream offerings (President Barack Obama was known to stop by). Now are plenty of places to get a cold treat, from quirky mini-chain Ice Cream Jubilee to liquid nitrogen-enhanced Nicecream. Mount Pleasant’s Mt. Desert Ice Cream is another known favorite of Obama. Prefer other desserts? Check out this guide to nearly 20 different dessert-focused maps for D.C.
D.C.'s standout omakase restaurants are Sushiko and Sushi Taro. The latter makes a mean ramen once a month, too, and earned a Michelin star last year. Union Market’s O-Ku, which originated in Charleston, South Carolina, features a variety of raw fish sure to satisfy sushi aficionados. Last year also saw the arrival of long awaited New York import Sushi Nakazawa, a partnership between restaurateur Alessandro Borgognone and Daisuke Nakazawa. Find other sushi essentials here.
Any list that Neighborhood Restaurant Group's beer director Greg Engert played a role in creating (Shelter in Capitol Hill, Bluejacket Brewery in Navy Yard) is worth a visit. The city's most famous brewery is arguably DC Brau (3178 Bladensburg Road NE), but there are tons of formidable breweries both inside the District and nearby as well, from 3 Stars Brewery to Atlas Brew Works (Ivy City, Navy Yard) to Port City Brewing Company (3950 Wheeler Avenue, Alexandria, Virginia). Newcomers include LGBTQ-friendly Red Bear Brewing Co. in NoMa and an Ivy City outpost of Brooklyn brewery Other Half. Cider fans got a new option in July with the arrival of Petworth’s Capitol Cider Works. Find the newest breweries here. The city is packed with outdoor beer gardens (like Dacha or Wunder Garten).
D.C. loves day-drinking, as evidenced by the popularity of brunch here. Standout brunches include egg-topped pizzas and Sicilian disco fries at All-Purpose, the brasserie fare at Le Diplomate, and the unconventional diner food at Unconventional Diner.
D.C. is a huge ramen town, with new noodle shops opening up constantly — even in the stifling-hot summer. Toki Underground, Ren's Ramen and Daikaya are among the established players, while Haikan and Bantam King are adding to the scene as well. Hatoba in Navy Yard is the latest flashy newcomer.
Neighborhoods to Know
Here are the key food-centric areas of the city to explore, as well as what to eat in each.
D.C. is nothing if not a tourist destination, whether it be families visiting the nation's capital, students here on school trips, or just those looking for a cool and affordable place to visit (remember that monuments and many museums are free here). Tourists in D.C. tend to flock to the National Mall — walkable to notable restaurants such as Central and Hill Country — as well as the historic neighborhood of Georgetown, home to places like bistro Chez Billy Sud, modernist fine-dining restaurant Reverie, and Brasserie Liberté. Find other can’t-miss eateries around the Convention Center as well. The Wharf, a waterfront development on the Southwest edge of the city, is an attraction in and of itself. While live music at the Anthem still feels far off, the InterContinental hotel has contemporary Vietnamese restaurant Moon Rabbit as a draw, along with massive cocktail bar/rum distillery Tiki TNT and pricey Spanish spot Del Mar.
Known for its eclectic, international flavor and its status as a bar crawl destination, this neighborhood has landed some of the city’s most respected restaurants in recent years. Go to Keren for Eritrean breakfast, Lucky Buns for top-notch burgers, Lapis for refined Afghan dishes, the Game for Filipino bar food, Green Zone for Middle Eastern-flavored cocktails, and Tail Up Goat for Mediterranean toasts and fresh pasta. Newer additions include pasta and wine bar Reveler’s Hour and a three-piece Japanese complex that holds Shibuya Eatery.
Restaurateurs and drinking pros continue flocking to this welcoming neighborhood. Standbys include Espita Mezcaleria (get the mole), All-Purpose pizzeria, the Seylou bakery, Buttercream Bakeshop, and the Dabney, for hearth-fueled Mid-Atlantic cooking. Other standbys include wine bar Maxwell Park and “urban garden” Calico.
14th Street/Logan Circle
Before the Shaw renaissance took place, 14th Street NW was the location to be for D.C. restaurants, and it's still an important place to find a concentrated number of hot spots. Here, find tapas restaurant Estadio, Stephen Starr mega-bistro Le Diplomate (get the duck salardaises), international small plates place Compass Rose (home of essential international drunk food khachapuri), and much more. Nightlife excitement stretches into the neighboring areas of U Street and Columbia Heights (Bad Saint, Queen’s English, Makan) as well. A stretch of 14th Street just north of Columbia Heights has three of the best traditional Mexican restaurants in town, Taqueria Habanero, Mezcalero, and seafood-focused newcomer Anafre.
The city’s preeminent food hall is the main attraction at this formerly wholesaler heavy stretch of Northeast D.C. But the area bordering Union Market has become a hot spot for restaurants, too, boasting heavyweights such as St. Anselm, coastal Italian tasting menu restaurant Masseria, and light-hearted, island-style newcomer Coconut Club. Rum distillery Cotton & Reed is a smart stop for a cocktail, A. Litteri is a timeless Italian grocery with classic subs. La Cosecha, a Latin American market with the Serenata cocktail bar, Grand Cata grocer and wine shop, and a host of other food vendors selling Salvadoran pupusas, Peruvian sandwiches, and Venezuelan hot dogs, has slowly come together over the past two years.
H Street NE
One of D.C.’s densest restaurant corridors, H Street attracts a rowdier crowd that likes to party late into the evening. Thamee and Cane are the new standout attractions, but standbys include Toki Underground for ramen, Maketto for Southeast Asian cafe fare, Fancy Radish for vegan fine-dining, and Ethiopic for Ethiopian.
This is where elected officials and advocacy groups hash out their differences. That said, the area right next to the government's office buildings isn't really the best segment of Capitol Hill for dining (though you'll find some old-school lobbyist haunts like The Monocle, Charlie Palmer, and Spike Mendelsohn's mini empire of restaurants, among other choices). The trick is to walk a little further towards Eastern Market and Barracks Row to find the real destination dining, including chef Aaron Silverman’s trend-setting Rose's Luxury, its siblings (super luxe Pineapple and Pearls and more budget-friendly Little Pearl) and inventive Chinese-Korean counter Chiko. Inside Eastern Market itself, the place to visit is Market Lunch (225 7th St. SE), which draws long lines for crab cakes and blueberry buckwheat pancakes. Find the best of the neighborhood here.
Virginia and Maryland
The Northern Virginia and Maryland suburbs are an integral part of the D.C. area's overall dining scene. For one thing, they are a hotbed for much of the area's best international dining, including Vietnamese, Chinese, Salvadoran, Korean, and more.
It's important to learn the major neighborhood names across Maryland (Wheaton, Silver Spring, Takoma Park, Rockville) and Virginia (Clarendon, Ballston, Old Town Alexandria, Del Ray, Falls Church, Tysons Corner) as area chefs are gambling more and more on areas outside D.C. Destination restaurants include Clarity, 2941, and Peter Chang's restaurants — make a beeline to Mama Chang for home-style Chinese in Fairfax.
Just north of the Beltway, Wheaton, Maryland, packs in a huge variety of tastes such as shawarma from Max’s Kosher and fried watercress salad from Ruan Thai. Up in Rockville, Kuya Ja’s Lechon Belly has become a destination for Filipino food.
A D.C. Glossary of Terms
Made famous by Ben's Chili Bowl, the half-smoke is a spicy sausage, often made with pork and beef, and usually grilled and served in a hot dog bun. Ben's tops its version with chili; many more artisan versions of the charcuterie classic can be found around town.
The giant slices of pizza that D.C. drinkers are notorious for ordering after an evening out in Adams Morgan. Late-night go-to Pizza Mart serves a ton of ‘em, though other Adams Morgan pizzerias and a few out-of-the-neighborhood spots also carry a version.
Picking crabs/eating crabs
Get that mind out of the gutter — this is the D.C. and Maryland phrasing for either purchasing a pre-cooked bushel of blue crabs, or heading to a restaurant to demolish at least a half-dozen blue crabs, which are steamed with Old Bay seasoning. Here's how to do it, and here's where to go do it locally.
This rather basic cocktail, a highball made with gin or whiskey, lime, and fizzy water, allegedly got its start in D.C. The bar that "invented" it no longer exists, but the Marriott hotel (1331 Pennsylvania Avenue NW) that stands there now celebrates the cocktail in its lounge. During Rickey Month, bars across the District put their spin on the classic.
Nope, not somewhere to shop — the National Mall, run by the National Park Service, is the large expanse of open area near several of D.C.'s monuments, as well as several Smithsonian museums. The adjacent Tidal Basin is where the cherry blossoms bloom each spring. Here's a guide to grabbing a bite near the tourist-packed promenade.
Neighborhood Restaurant Group: another prolific hospitality outfit. it operates Navy Yard brewery Bluejacket, restaurants like Iron Gate and Evening Star Cafe, and — most recently — Capitol Hill food hall the Roost. There’s also Neighborhood Provisions, a delivery and pickup service that sells all kinds of pre-packaged goods and groceries, including meats from Red Apron Butcher.
A tongue-teasing condiment with a distinctive sweet-and-sour twang, mumbo sauce reflects the influence predominantly Black neighborhoods had on D.C.’s Chinese carryouts. Some locals argue it originated here, though Chicago also lays claim to it. Sometimes also referred to as "mambo sauce."
Rammy Award-winning restaurateur Ashok Bajaj operates the Knightsbridge family of restaurants. Several places fall under his supervision, but his his most famous operations are Bombay Club and Rasika/Rasika West End. He introduced Cleveland Park to Indian street food and Israeli cuisine, respectively, at Bindaas and Sababa. He has recently rebranded Bibiana as Modena downtown and brought James Beard award-winner Frank Ruta on board to create the modern American menu at Annabelle in Kalorama.
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